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Strait of Magellan

Written on: Thursday February 14th, 2008

A journal entry from: Kevin and Julie's RTW

Location: Punta Arenas, Chile 

Author: Julie 


There are only 3 buses a week that leave Ushuaia and Tierra del Fuego for the mainland. We had booked our bus ticket (50$) the day after arriving and managed to get one of the last few seats available for the bus this morning. We boarded at 7 AM and settled into our seat in the full bus. I usually fall asleep within 30 minutes of departure but I spent all 11 hours of the drive with my nose stuck to the window. The view was one of the most beautiful I had ever seen in my life. Never ending yellow pastureland with the brightest blue sky for as far as the eye can see. Occasionally I would see a couple of cows grazing. For a long time, the gravel road would skirt along the ocean and we would be treated with views of waves crashing on the shore. Only fences gave away the fact that there were humans living in the area, there was a strong sense of isolation and abandonment. I felt that we were intruding on a part of the world that needed to be left alone to the wildness of Mother Nature. 

At the border crossing into Chile, we all descended from the bus with the instruction to bring our daybags with us and any food we owned. Chile has very strict import laws on food entering the country. One guy tried to make it across with a whole bag of food by ?forgetting? it in the bus, but the inspecting agent boarded the bus and found the bag. He wasn?t impressed and waited for the guy to get back on the bus to confront him. It was a few tense moments as we wondered what the punishment would be but in the end we, including the food guy, were allowed to continue on. 

We arrived at the Strait of Magellan to wait for the ferry. It is the navigable sea route immediately south of mainland Chile, South America and north of Tierra del Fuego. The strait is the most important natural passage between the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans, but it is considered a difficult route to navigate because of the inhospitable climate and the narrowness of the passage. The strait is approximately 570 km long and is about 2 km wide at its narrowest point. Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese sailor in service to the Spanish King, became the first European to navigate the strait in 1520, during his global circumnavigation voyage. Because Magellan's ships entered it on November 1, All Saints' Day, it was originally named Estrecho de Todos los Santos (Strait of All Saints). Later the Spanish king changed the name to Estrecho de Magallanes in honor of Magellan. 

The ferry ride was approximately 30 minutes long with the mainland shore visible across the strait from the boarding jetty. The bus driver asked us to descend before the bus could be boarded for safety reasons, so we moved up to the upper deck for a view of the surrounding area and cliffs as we passed by. We were lucky and were assisted in our crossing by a pod of local Peale?s dolphins which looked at first to be miniature versions of an Orca whale with a dark body and white patch underneath. They glided along the wake of the boat and would disappear in the white froth to only reappear a few seconds later at the bow of the ship, ready for another round of surfing. 

We arrived in Punta Arenas (meaning ?Sandy Point?), Chile late in the afternoon without a reservation. We figured that there would be lots of beds left but like most other times this thinking was wrong. We walked around the hostel area quite a while to only find out that the double rooms there were available were all in the 70$ USD rates or more. We couldn?t afford that price so our last ditch was a stop at a hostel with a so-so rating in our guidebook. We understood why when we walked in. It was a house that had been converted into a hostel by filling all the rooms with bunk beds, but this was a mostly open-concept building so other than the kitchen and the living room, it was one huge room with a couple of dozen bunk beds, grouped and separated by curtains. They had one private double bed room (30$) which was sectioned off from the rest of the hostel by particle board for privacy. We took it as it was the cheapest by far we could find. It was Valentine?s Day so we ate a lovely pasta meal with shrimp and drank a great bottle of red Argentinean wine. 

We were there for the one night before moving on to Puerto Natales, our next destination and the gateway to the Torres del Paine National Park.